Singer, Composer, Lyricist, Stage Director and Artistic Director
For more than fifty years, Lionel Daunais had an undeniable influence on Québec’s lyric arts scene through his many activities as a singer, composer, lyricist, stage director, radio personality, and artistic director.
Studies and Stage Début
He studied singing, harmony, and acting in Montréal. 1926 was a breakthrough year: he made his opera début in Mireille (Gounod), he gave his first recital at the Ritz Carlton, he recorded his two first 78 rpm discs, and won the Prix d’Europe, a grant allowing him to pursue advanced voice and composition studies in Paris.
He married Fernande Gauthier in 1927 at the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris — the couple had four children: Nicole, Francine, Jean, and Louise — and in 1929 he was engaged as first baritone at the Algiers Opera, performing more than twenty roles during the company’s 1929-30 season.
Back in Montréal in 1930, he joined the Troubadours de Bytown, a male vocal quartet, and in parallel, he sang numerous roles with the Société canadienne d’opérette until 1935, and founded the Trio lyrique in 1932 along with contralto Anna Malenfant, tenor Ludovic Huot (who was replaced by Jules Jacob in the early 1940s), and pianist Allan McIver.
The Trio lyrique performed in concert and was very active on the radio until the beginning of the 1960s. The group’s repertoire consisted of hit songs (Le tango des roses), Canadian folksongs, and humorous songs in popular style written by Daunais himself (Aglaé, Le petit chien de laine, Monsieur le Curé, La tourtière). The Trio lyrique recorded 78s in 1932 and 1948, followed by LPs in 1954 and 1961. They collaborated with the National Film Board on a few animated shorts, and in 1961-62, in celebration of their 30th anniversary, the Trio presented a series of 250 radio programmes for the Société Radio-Canada (SRC), the French network of the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC).
In 1936, Lionel Daunais and Charles Goulet cofounded the Variétés lyriques, a new private opera company which took over from the Société canadienne d’opérette. Daunais’ duties included administration, staging productions, and performing. Over the span of its nineteen years of activity at the Monument-National, the Variétés lyriques presented 84 works: 70 operettas or musicals, 13 operas and 1 musical revue — 1084 performances in total.
French operetta held a place of honour (Offenbach, Audran, Messager, Yvain, Planquette, Lecocq, Varney, etc.), alongside Viennese (Lehár, Strauss, Kálmán) and American (Romberg, Herbert, Youmans) works. Programming usually featured one opera per season, among which Carmen, The Barber of Seville, Manon, La Traviata, Faust, Rigoletto and Madame Butterfly. All of the Variétés lyriques’ productions were sung in French.
A significant number of Québec talents made their début with the company. Future international opera luminaries included Pierrette Alarie, Léopold Simoneau, Louis Quilico, Raoul Jobin, Richard Verreau, André Turp, and Joseph Rouleau. Among theatre and radio stars were Jean Duceppe, Denise Pelletier, Paul Berval, Juliette Huot, Fred Barry, Guy Mauffette, Olivette Thibault, Béatrice Picard, Rita Bibeau, Guy Hoffmann, and Pierre Thériault.
Radio-Canada and Place des Arts
In 1956 and 1957, Daunais directed two series of operettas broadcast on SRC television, a medium still in its infancy. In 1963, he staged La Mascotte, an operetta presented more than thirty times at the Théâtre de Verdure. Then, between 1966 and 1969, he was artistic director for five operetta productions performed at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of the Place des Arts.
In the autumn of 1971, he sang (at the age of 69!) more than 140 of his songs during a series of 13 radio broadcasts for Radio-Canada, in addition to being featured on a television special.
The Lionel Daunais Fonds of the Archives nationales du Québec contains all of his manuscripts, scores, iconographic documents and sound recordings. His oeuvre comprises 250 songs for voice and piano (including 4 cycles), 25 songs for youth, 19 arrangements of songs by Anna Malenfant, 67 secular works for choir, 10 sacred works for solo voice or choir, and 84 folksong arrangements for choir.
In addition to the 1926 recordings, Lionel Daunais’ discography as a solo singer consists of eight other 78s, all with orchestral accompaniment, on which he performs arias and songs, as well as some of his own compositions. These records were issued by RCA Bluebird (1939, 1940), RCA Victor (1940), and Pathé (1951). D’amour et de fantaisie, an LP entirely devoted to his songs, was released in 1974 on the Select label.
Along with the Trio lyrique’s albums, the composer’s works were subsequently recorded by various other artists and ensembles, among whom Bourvil, Hélène Guilmette, Bruno Laplante, Musica Intima, Michel Rivard, Mes Aïeux, Pascale Bussières, and La Bottine Souriante.
Lionel Daunais received several awards highlighting his invaluable contribution to the development of Québec musical life: Bene Merenti de Patria Medal from the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society (1965); Canadian Music Council Medal (1972); Calixa Lavallée Music Award (1977); Officer of the Order of Canada (1978); Denise Pelletier Award (Prix du Québec 1982); induction into the Canadian Opera Hall of Fame (1991); induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (2006).
In his memory, Québec toponymy has three streets bearing his name: rue Lionel-Daunais in Boucherville, rue Lionel-Daunais in Saint-Jérôme, and avenue Lionel-Daunais in the Anjou borough of Montréal.